20 June 2016
A large group of protesters met outside the Barnstaple Library in on Saturday morning. Speakers from across the political spectrum spoke in defence of the A&E and other services at North Devon Hospital threatened with closure because of insufficient funding by the government. Among the speakers were Brian Greenslade, Cathrine Simmons, David Brenton, Sir Nick Harvey, Margaret Brenton, Peter Christie, Frank and Netti Pearson and Gerry Sables. Afterward the Mayor of Barnstaple led a march through the town as demonstrators chanted 'Save our A&E'.
Speakers at the demonstration forcefully underlined that closure of the A&E unit at North Devon Hospital would inevitably lead to deaths: it takes nearly an hour to get from the centre of Barnstaple to the A&E in Exeter - but outlying districts such as Combe Martin are an hour away from Barnstaple. It was pointed out that the 'Success Regime' which is intended to improve the 'efficiency' of the NHS around the country, including North Devon, appears to take no account of accessibility in far-flung rural areas like ours. Speakers also noted that once an A&E unit goes, and this option has not been taken off the table (Alison Diamond"no red lines"), a general hospital becomes unviable, so North Devon may lose its hospital too.
While the demo was carefully non-partisan in terms of politics, it was made clear by several speakers that it is incongruous for a much trumpeted 'fifth largest economy in the world' to fail to pay for an adequate national health service. Speakers, and placards at the event, made it clear that many attending felt that the austerity imposed on the NHS not only broke government promises made at the last election but also seem to be part of a deliberate plan to undermine the NHS in order to privatise it. The absence of Peter Heaton-Jones MP was noted.
Protect our NHS